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The Telegraph

Easing of exam assessments will end next year as Covid measures are dropped

Geoff Barton - Jason Senior/ASCL /PA
Geoff Barton - Jason Senior/ASCL /PA

GCSEs and A-levels will return to normal next year as the exams watchdog announced it would drop Covid measures on coursework and practical tests in 2023.

The exams regulator Ofqual told pupils on Tuesday that no adjustments would be made next year to accommodate the impact of the pandemic.

For pupils taking exams this year - with the main summer exam period already under way - the Department for Education (DfE) has published information on which topics will appear on most exam papers in an attempt to help students and mitigate the disruption to education over the past few years.

The DfE said that there should be a choice of topics in GCSE English literature, history and ancient history, and a choice of content in GCSE geography.

However, for 2023, the DfE confirmed "the return to full subject content coverage for those GCSE subjects".

Adjustments to coursework, science practicals and fieldwork in place for this year will also no longer apply next year.

Ofqual said it would "continue to monitor" the impact of the pandemic and would evaluate the mitigations used to help pupils this year, such as formulae sheets and the advance information about paper topics, before it finalised plans for 2023.

'Best and fairest way of assessing'

"Our intention is to return to the carefully designed and well-established pre-pandemic assessment arrangements as quickly as possible, given they are the best and fairest way of assessing what students know and can do," the regulator said.

It added that it would consider its approach to grading in 2023 "in light of outcomes" from this year’s exam period.

The announcement comes as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warned that pupils are more stressed and anxious about sitting exams this year than they were pre-pandemic.

In a survey of more than 500 headteachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, nearly 80 per cent reported more requests than before the pandemic for pupils to take assessments in separate rooms away from the exam hall because of anxiety and stress.

The heads also reported that exam anxiety was causing high rates of pupil absence and an increase in self-harm incidents, with some saying that they were seeing more challenging behaviour from pupils because of stress.

Several reported that A-level students, who have never taken a full suite of public exams before because of Covid, were experiencing the worst anxiety.

'Continue to cause absence' 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said that Ofqual’s announcement allowed schools to plan teaching for next year, but added that he was "concerned" about the decision to remove mitigations for the 2023 cohort.

"The students who will take their GCSEs next year have been heavily impacted by the pandemic and it is likely that Covid will continue to cause periods of absence between now and summer 2023," he said.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that scrapping mitigations for 2023 was "unsurprising" given the Government's "overall policy of living with Covid".

He said the fact that the decision had been announced before the 2022-2023 academic year, "unlike for the past three summers", would give teachers "some certainty".

Schools and colleges have put in extra support for students this exam season, such as more counselling and revision technique tips, but are still struggling to cope because of the pressure on available space and a lack of invigilators.